Debate | #banbossy

Last week, businesswoman and Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg launched a new #BanBossy campaign aiming to ban the word “bossy” on the grounds that it discourages young girls from ambition and leadership. With support from celebrities like Condoleezza Rice and Beyoncé, the campaign soon received a lot of media attention. Yet it also came under scrutiny with some commentators suggesting that the #BanBossy campaign will do little to change the current imbalance of power in leadership roles. LS Debate asks, should bossy really be banned?


Eleanor Healing

Second Year English

I don’t know about other women of my generation, but being labelled as ‘bossy’ as a child was quite hurtful. ‘Teacher’s pet’ and ‘geek’ I could handle, but ‘bossy’ just seemed to sting more than the rest.

When it came to leadership roles in high school and sixth form, I would see my male counterparts making similar assertions and adopting similar roles to me, but for some reason I was the one made to feel uncomfortable about having the small amount of power granted to us. Other girls on the student council or leadership team would gain respect by being more passive and letting their male counterparts speak for them. When I and a few other girls tried to deviate from this, the word ‘bossy’ tended to be banded about in a very negative voice.

‘Bossy’ is generally (but with some exceptions) targeted at women in positions of leadership and it’s rare to find a man labelled and criticised in the same way. This attitude is so ingrained in our culture and society that we just view it as being the norm and don’t question it. I was not a fan of Margaret Thatcher, but despite making mistakes as devastating as other male leaders, she seems to be more controversial because she was a woman daring to step into the masculine sphere of tyranny. “Well the only woman to be Prime Minister messed up the country”,  a young man once said to me. Tony Blair made some horrendous decisions (just look at the war crimes allegations), but we’d never suggest that we should ban men from leading the country again, because that statement just sounds too ridiculous. Women in positions of power are subject to much harsher

criticism because it is still not seen as a sphere that women truly belong in.

Ultimately, if you tell a young girl that she should not be assertive enough times, she will eventually believe you. It’s little wonder there are so few women in positions of leadership around the world today. While it’s an extreme and difficult step to try and completely ban the word ‘bossy’ itself, re-defining how we view and talk about women in positions of power is a sensible idea. The word ‘bossy’ could even be reclaimed or re-appropriated and organisers of the anti-sexual harassment movement ‘slutwalk’ have shown that this is possible. If a young girl is made to think that being ‘bossy’ is a good thing and has positive connotations, it will lose its stigma and the confidence of our young generation of women will be boosted.

It’s predicted that it will take the same amount of time for a snail to travel the length of the Great Wall of China as it will for women to gain full political equality with their male counterparts. By redefining how we view women in positions of power, we can let girls know from a young age that they can be powerful and become leaders if they desire to be. Maybe we could even shave some time off that snail’s journey across the wall.


Andrew Campbell

Fourth Year Computer Science

Let me start by stating that the “Ban Bossy” campaign does indeed have positive and admirable intentions; after all, the main aim is to draw attention to negative effects on young girls’ self esteem which can only be a good thing. The campaign makes use of a lot of positive media stories, including  seven year old Charlotte Benjamin’s brilliant letter to Lego challenging the fixed gender roles of their figures. Furthermore, it has also attracted a lot of media attention from a diverse range of positive female role models including Beyonce, Condeoleeza Rice and Jennifer Garner. However, the problem with the campaign is that in order to gain this publicity it has taken on an agenda: to ban the word bossy.

The main problem with the #banbossy campaign is that it over simplifies the cause. Instead of people reading the material or watching the videos referenced on the website, they can simply tweet #banbossy. This gives people the kony2012 feeling”; that is, that by tweeting and sharing they are changing the world. The obvious irony is that the ban bossy hashtag actually works to keep the word bossy in circulation.

So, lets turn to the campaign itself. To quote from the site: ‘When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.”’ This to me is a very strange statement: when I hear young boys make demands for their favourite cereal to their parents, I would never think, “Now there is a born leader”. I may even suggest he is being a bit bossy. In this way, bossy is definitely patronising, but it is not a particularly gendered term. It suggests that bossy has been selected simply because it perfectly fits alongside ban into a neat hashtag.

The campaign also encourages sharing of statistics, one of these being “Between elementary and high school, girls’ self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys”. Whilst the partnering graphic is slick, the credibility seems to be lacking and begs the question, how can self-esteem be measured numerically? Self worth is a feeling, not a number that can be plotted on a graph.

Ultimately, boosting self-esteem is usually done by positivity, but “Ban Bossy” is inherently negative. An opportunity has been missed to encourage young girls to aspire and achieve. The campaign instead just fuels the “Political correctness gone mad” brigade and inaccurately gives feminism a negative image.

Let’s assume that the campaign goes on to be a complete success and people stop using the word bossy: what is the result of this? Does anyone truly believe that this would lead to more young women seeking involvement in male dominated careers or leadership roles? The problem, is that hashtagging #banbossy is unlikely to contribute to widening young girls aspirations. If you are looking for some campaigns and companies that do help, search for: Code First Girls, Goldie Blox or She Counts.

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